Global Policy Forum

Transparency in the Selection and Appointment of Senior Managers at the United Nations Secretariat

This report from the UN Joint Inspection United describes the Secretary-General’s procedure for hiring senior managers, and it touches on the non-transparent hiring process in which gender and geography is “considered”. The report recommends a better way for Member States to obtain clear information about the Secretary-General’s selection process. But UN reports use vague and conflated language, making change slow. While the JIU recommendations are important, it remains to be seen whether the General Assembly will act upon them, and whether formal rules can improve a highly political selection process dominated by the most powerful countries.

By M. Deborah Wynes and Mohamed Mounir Zahran

The Joint Inspection Unit

Executive Summary

The Report was prepared pursuant to paragraph 19 of General Assembly resolution 64/259, “Towards an accountability system in the United Nations Secretariat”, and will be submitted to the General Assembly at the main part of its sixty-sixth session. The objective of the study was to review the effectiveness, coherence, timeliness and transparency of the current selection and appointment processes of senior managers in the United Nations Secretariat and provide recommendations leading to enhanced transparency. For the purpose of this report, senior managers are defined as the Deputy Secretary-General, Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General; the scope is limited to the United Nations Secretariat.

Main findings and conclusions

Member States are familiar with the process as outlined in the Secretary-General’s report on accountability (A/64/640) and for the most part, no major concerns were expressed with the description of the process itself. The concern is with the implementation of the process, which is seen as opaque, raising many questions as to how the process actually works.

Both the Member States and the Inspectors recognize the explicit discretionary power of the Secretary-General in making senior manager appointments, but the Inspectors believe discretionary authority does not mean that the Secretary-General has carte blanche to avoid the process that he has established; discretionary authority should not be used as an excuse to avoid transparency in that process.

The challenge is to strike a balance between providing enough information to Member States so they are confident that the process is open, fair and transparent without compromising the privacy of the candidates and jeopardizing the confidentiality of the deliberative process of either the interview panels or the Secretary-General himself.

The Inspectors believe that vacancy announcements should be issued for all positions, except for special envoys and personal advisers, as soon as it is known that a vacancy will arise. Notes verbale transmitting vacancy announcements for every position should be sent to all Member States and all United Nations agencies, funds and programmes with at least one month’s notice.

Frequently, Member States will nominate a candidate whose qualifications may not be suitable for a particular vacancy. The Inspectors are convinced that merit should be the primary criteria in the selection of senior managers and that Member States are responsible for putting forward fully qualified candidates for the Secretary-General to consider. A website should be set up to convey information on senior appointments to Member States and potential candidates.

The Inspectors found that interview panel members, who are the most senior officials in the Organization, spend their time on basic screening of candidates and that detailed reference checks are not performed. Basic screening to filter out candidates who do not satisfy mandatory eligibility criteria should be performed by OHRM or its equivalent. To avoid serious reputational risk to the Organization, once a short list is determined, all information provided by those candidates should be thoroughly vetted by OHRM or its equivalent, e.g., degrees, references, performance history, etc., before the interview panel forwards the list to the Secretary-General for decision.

The Secretary-General recognizes the political realities that he must reflect in the Organization, but reportedly no position is reserved for any Member State. However, annex II shows that historically no Secretary-General has been immune to political pressure in this regard. The Inspectors believe that if all vacancies are announced and announcements are sent to all Member States and the United Nations funds and programmes, the requirements of paragraph 3 (e) in resolution 46/232, whereby the General Assembly decided that as a general rule, no national of a Member State should succeed a national of that State in a senior post and that there should be no monopoly on senior posts by nationals of any State or group of States, should be satisfied.

For those positions where the United Nations General Assembly has decided that there be geographic rotation between the “North” and the “South”, in the Inspectors’ opinion candidacies should be sought only from the region whose turn it is to hold the position. For example, assuming that a current incumbent is from the North and a successor should be from the South, notes verbale with the vacancy announcement requesting nominations of candidates for the upcoming vacancy should be sent to the Member States from the South only, with information to the Member States from the North.

Recommendations for consideration by the General Assembly

The General Assembly should direct the Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) to set-up and maintain on a monthly basis a dedicated website which will convey specific information on senior appointments to Member States and potential candidates as described in paragraph 88 of this report.

The General Assembly should endorse the guidelines in paragraph 87 (a) to (l) of this report and direct the Secretary-General to follow the guidelines in selecting and appointing senior managers in tandem with the process outlined in the Secretary-General’s accountability report.

To view the report in its entirety, click here.


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